Smart Moves: Degree with a difference

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The Independent Online
Despite the boom in undergraduate degrees in business studies, employers still complain that graduates are ill-equipped for jobs in business and industry. To counter this refrain, Nottingham Business School has introduced a new degree - in concert with a group of blue-chip companies - which gives students a much bigger dose of work in the real world.

Called a BA in business management, this novel degree is arousing great interest among companies and other universities around the country. It involves students spending only one year at Nottingham Business School. The other two years are spent working in a company. That contrasts with the conventional business studies sandwich degree, which lasts four years - one in a company and three at the university.

But that isn't the only novel feature of the degree. The organisers are also trying to be innovative in how they teach. Students have set up an experimental company on campus and staged an event at the Nottingham Playhouse.

The companies involved include Reuters, British Sugar, Boots, Marks and Spencer and CGU, the largest composite insurance company in the UK. All are expected to take students on to placements at the end of their first year this summer. Rolls Royce will also take two students. (Seven students are still looking for placements.)

"We have the opportunity to help shape the programme so we can help to ensure that it's relevant for students who are wanting to move into business and industry," says Carole Jones, head of resourcing at CGU.

As part of the admission interview, students are asked to give a three- minute presentation on a company and why they would like to work for it. They have chosen the company from a list provided. If they've simply reproduced material from the company's website, they won't score as highly as if they have written a letter and rung up for information.

The first year consists of a broad-based business studies course but the school has tried to be innovative. In one module, students buy an off-the-shelf company and trade for three months. But first they go on a team-building weekend. "If they're going to run this business, they've got to know each other's skills and what they're good at," says Barbara Sargent, the programme director. "It's not a jolly."

The company they set up this year was a retail one - taking images off the Reuters database and selling them as posters at various sites around the campus. One poster image was of a pair of polar bears kissing; another was of a camel trail across the desert in front of the setting sun; a third was a helicopter landing in jungle. "They learnt a lot from running it," says Ms Sargent.

After three months the company was wound up and the students found they had made a loss - a bitter learning experience. They ended up with a load of stock which they hadn't sold. Next year students might be allowed to extend the range of material they are selling, Ms Sargent says, by turning the posters into postcards or cards.

Students on the course have also studied a module with the solemn title "Understanding problem solving and decisions in business". To make this more fun and to heighten students' self-awareness and communications skills, the school contacted the Nottingham Playhouse. This month students performed sketches which demonstrated some of the issues in problem-solving and decision-making. They wrote and produced the sketches with the help of the Playhouse and the event provided an entertaining way to end the year.